Living and Learning on

Multiplayer games and worlds have increased in popularity with millions of players now spending dozens of hours or more online each week. We know surprisingly little about what younger players do in virtual worlds like Teen Second Life, Habbo Hotel, Club Penguin, Virtual Laguna Beach, There and others. Discussions about their promises and problems have been initiated among researchers, parents, developers, and policy makers. The purpose of this blog is to make our current research publicly available about one such teen virtual world called Whyville and to solicit feedback and initiate discussion. currently has over 2 million registered players ages 8-16. In Whyville, teens are encouraged to play casual science games in order to earn a virtual salary in ‘clams’, which they can spend on buying and designing parts for their avatars, projectiles to throw at other users, and other goods. The general consensus among Whyvillians (the citizens of the virtual community of Whyville) is that earning a good salary and thus procuring a large number of clams to spend on face parts or other goods is essential for fully participating in the Whyville. Like other virtual worlds, hundreds of cheat sites have been developed outside of Whyville to reveal shortcuts and introduce new players to virtual customs.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, UCLA researcher Yasmin Kafai and her team study many different aspects of Whyville including science learning, avatar creation and virtual identity, the role of cheating, and flirting and dating through Whyville.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Virtual Drugs: or, Whypox EVOLVES...

As some of you probably know, much of our research on Whyville has featured Whypox, the virus that at least annually spread around Whyville. Since our research in 2002 and 2005, Whypox has changed dramatically, evolving like the ever changing biological virus it models. It used to be that once your avatar caught Whypox, you began with sneezes, "achoo," and bright red spots on your face. Well, over the past couple years they started adding vaccines, more symptoms, and the possibility to get one symptom and not others. In other words, Whypox has evolved into what must be multiple viruses!

Recentlly in Whyville I wandered into a new pharmacy. Turns out they're now selling treatments for each individual symptom: sniffling, coughing. and those darn pimples. WHAT?! You can treat Whypox?

Will this change how Whypox affects the community? Just last summer we presented on Whypox as a community event. Even if kids didn't have Whypox, they were involved and affected by the epidemic. Some uninfected kids even imitated the "achoo" in their chat! But with these new virtual drugs, will things ever be the same?

Wait a minute, that lady pharmacist just said the drug would only work for two hours. Doh!

Ah well. I'm not infected but I did say "pretty please" to get some "sniff b gone," just in case.

No comments: